A distinctly unhelpful rhetorical device is insisting that some important public debate is over, that your side has won and you don’t even have to say why any more. Of course there are issues on which debate really is over, from the desirability of slavery as a social institution to the importance of reviving the Holy Roman Empire. But just as we find it exasperating when people comment on our social media that some scientists they can’t name know something they can’t specify to be true for reasons they can’t cite, it’s unhelpful when news outlets and others simply assert that the ravages of climate are upon us without bothering to present data or arguments. If we thought the perpetrators would listen to our advice we would point out that this kind of reporting undermines social trust in the media… and its market share.
Lines like “The planet bears the burden of a warming climate but also displays unparalleled beauty if you catch it at the right time” are everywhere. But what does it even mean? As opposed to something like “Actually the number of cyclones worldwide and their intensity has gone down in the last 40 years” which can be understood and tested against evidence whose validity, in turn, can be debated and discussed.
It's even worse when heat turns the prose purple, as in “millions of people on three continents baked in heat waves supercharged by climate change this week”. Baked! Supercharged! Debate over, harangue begins. And the Washington Post tugs at the heartstrings with some woman in Senegal whose home got washed away then asserts as uncontroversial that “While cities across the world must contend with the growing tide as the Earth heats up, developing nations face the greatest risk. Rates of sea level rise have more than doubled in recent decades, scientists say, as reliance on fossil fuels hastened the melting of ice sheets and glaciers.”
As our CDN by the Sea tour has demonstrated, an astounding number of places around the world are contending with sea levels rising about a metre every 400 years or even falling. According to the World Bank, the rate in Senegal is currently about 3mm a year, so just 333 years to hit a metre. Undaunted, the Post does a rerun of those infamous climate refugee predictions of yore, saying “In sub-Saharan Africa, up to 86 million people will have to relocate because of climate change by 2050, more than anywhere else on Earth” and adds that “Researchers in Senegal found that 80 percent of the city [its former capital, Saint-Louis] could be underwater by 2080, erasing this world heritage site celebrated for its architecture while uprooting 150,000 people.”
If so, then 80% of Saint-Louis must currently be less than 18 cm above sea level. Better hope they don’t have waves or tides there. Blast. They do. With more than a metre between high and low tides. Oh the humanity.
Then there are press releases saying stuff like:
“The waste created by British Columbia's accelerating mining boom is a growing threat to communities and watersheds throughout the province, according to a new report released today. The increase in extreme weather events brought on by climate change intensifies this threat: severe flooding is one of the main causes of tailings dam failure at mine sites around the world.”
At least with that one there’s a report so you can go and see why this person thinks there’s even been an increase in extreme weather events, let alone that causality has been established. Only you’ll find that they don’t. The report not only makes no effort to substantiate the claim, it doesn’t seem to make it. Which didn’t stop the press release writer.
Elsewhere the New York Times tries to drum up sympathy for the French, possibly in vain, by describing a harrowing shortage of Dijon mustard and blaming you-know-what.
“A perfect storm of climate change, a European war, Covid supply problems and rising costs have left French producers short of the brown seeds that make their mustard, mustard.”
They don’t even deign to discuss the bright yellow stuff as an alternative, saying instead that “Horseradish, wasabi, Worcestershire sauce and even creams of Roquefort or shallots have all emerged as contenders” but alas “In Lyon, the idea of an offal sausage, or andouillette, without its mustard sauce is as inconceivable as cheese starved of wine.”
Monsieur, your sausage is awful. Merci. No, no, I don’t mean… but we digress. The point is, the supposed magic of “attribution studies” now lets journalists who flunked high school math declare that anything disagreeable, including a shortage of the vital brown mustard seeds that come, of all places, from Alberta and Saskatchewan is definitively due to that climate thingy.
As we discussed in our video on public conditioning around floods, much of it is purely reflexive, like the man who crosses himself when nervous without reforming his sinful ways. Thus a press release about a minister flying across Canada to hand out money will say “As farmers and Canadians face the brunt of the impacts of climate change, these new living labs will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the climate resiliency of our nation’s food systems.” Face the brunt, no less. But mostly they’ve stopped thinking, about their own ideas as well as other people’s.
Something’s closed. But it’s their minds, not the debate.